When you are
stung by an insect, poisons and other toxins enter your skin. It's normal to
have some swelling, redness, pain, and itching around the sting. But you may
allergic reaction if your
immune system reacts strongly to
allergens in the sting.
You probably won't have a severe allergic reaction the first time you are stung. But even if
your first reaction to a sting is mild, allergic reactions can get worse with
each sting. Your next reaction may be more severe or even deadly.
What causes an allergic reaction to insect stings?
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts strongly to
the allergens in the sting.
A few types of stinging insects cause
most allergic reactions. They are:
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of an allergic
reaction can range from mild to severe.
Mild reactions may cause:
Redness, pain, and swelling around the
Itching around the sting or anywhere on your body.
Large, local reactions may cause the same symptoms as mild reactions, plus:
Redness and swelling that affects an entire arm, leg, or large part of your body.
Swelling that continues to increase for up to 48 hours.
A large local reaction can take up to 10 days to go away.1
Swelling of your tongue, throat,
or other body parts.
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Anaphylaxis, which is a severe, life-threatening reaction that requires emergency treatment. It causes confusion, trouble breathing, and other symptoms.
How are allergies to insect stings diagnosed?
doctor may do a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and
past health. He or she also may want you to have allergy tests after you get
better from the allergic reaction. Allergy tests, such as skin prick tests or blood tests, can help you find out which
types of insect stings you are most allergic to.
How are they treated?
When you are stung
For a severe reaction, such as confusion and trouble breathing:
If you have your allergy kit, use the antihistamine medicine and
epinephrine shot. Then go to the emergency room.
For a large, local reaction or a mild reaction, you can typically treat it at home.
Use an ice pack to reduce
swelling. If you can, raise the body part where you were stung.
Take a nonprescription pain reliever, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example), or ibuprofen (Advil, for example). Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 because of the risk of
antihistamine to help with the itching. Read and
follow the warnings on the label. And don't give antihistamines to your child
unless you've checked with the doctor first.
If you or your child has severe reactions, your doctor may prescribe epinephrine, such as an EpiPen, and antihistamine medicine that you keep in an allergy kit. Keep the kit with you or your child at all times. Teach others, such as teachers, friends, or coworkers, what to do if you're stung and how to give the shot. Also, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet or other jewelry that lists your allergies. During an emergency, these can save your life.
You may also want to try allergy shots,
called immunotherapy, to help prevent worse allergic reactions in the
To reduce your
chances of being stung:
Stay away from places where insects nest.
Wear shoes, long sleeves, and long pants when you are outdoors.
Don't wear perfume or scented lotions.
If you are stung, stay as calm and quiet as you can. Then move away from the insect and leave
the area, because the nest may be close by.
Remove the stinger from your skin. It may be best to scrape or flick the stinger off
your skin—squeezing or gripping the stinger to pull it out may inject more
venom into your wound. If you were stung in your arm or leg, lower it to slow the spread of venom. Then treat the insect sting based on the type of reaction you have.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and
555 East Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202-3823
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
publishes an excellent series of pamphlets on allergies, asthma, and related
information. It also provides physician referrals.
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
85 West Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
1-800-842-7777 (allergist referral service)
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
(ACAAI) provides allergy information for consumers, including a nationwide
allergist referral service.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
1233 20th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
provides information and support for people who have allergies or asthma. The
AAFA has local chapters and support groups. And its Web site has online
resources, such as fact sheets, brochures, and newsletters, both free and for
KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and
Nemours Home Office
10140 Centurion Parkway
Jacksonville, FL 32256
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.